County fighting underage drinking

NAWILIWILI — The county Anti-Drug Program staff has been thinking outside the box, finding creative ways to involve the community in a fight against underage drinking.

Programs traditionally deliver individual prevention strategies focusing on the youth, Outreach Coordinator Brenda Jose told Kaua‘i County Council members on Wednesday.

“But what we forget a lot of times in this traditional form of prevention is the environment,” said Jose, adding that the goal of the Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol program is to work with the environment.

Social norms such as, “baby, go get the beer from the cooler,” have been widely accepted, she said.

Furthermore, Jose said accessibility and availability, plus a myriad of media messages promoting alcohol, also contribute to underage drinking.

CMCA has been trying to involve the community — especially the youth — in changing the social norm.

A document completed by Amanda Gregg and County Anti-Drug Coordinator Theresa Koki, and submitted Nov. 18, 2009 for a state-funded grant request to fight underage drinking, states that of the Hawaiian islands, “Kaua‘i has highest per capita percentage of 12-17 year olds within its population — 8.7 percent.”

Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said it was through the vision of late Mayor Bryan Baptiste that alcohol and drug programs got started in the county.

“I also want to recognize that your office has secured $1.5 million in outside funding that is making the underage-drinking programs possible,” she told Koki.

Jose said students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi came up with an idea that grew into a “good, all-the-way around community effort,” by suggesting a face lift at Kujo’s store in Kalaheo, removing all banners promoting alcohol from the store front.

Another student-led initiative is “sticker shock,” in which students place stickers on beer six-packs reminding that providing alcohol to minors is illegal. The initiative is targeted for implementation by the end of the summer, she said. In addition, alcohol-only coolers would also receive a sticker, so children would not look for soda, water or juice amid alcoholic beverages.

One of the strategies CMCA has also been implementing, Jose said, is going out into different communities on Kaua‘i and identifying the needs of each one.

“An environmental strategy that works in Hanalei might not be the same strategy that you would want  to implement in Kekaha,” said Jose, explaining why it is  important to feedback from everyone. “It’s  not one size fits all.”

Sign ordinance

Councilman Tim Bynum said there’s a sign ordinance on Kaua‘i that has been routinely violated. He called it “frustrating” to see Waimea Town Celebration banners sponsored by alcohol companies.

“One hand the government is saying ‘this is the message we need to put out,’ on the other hand we’re allowing it to continue when it’s against the law,” Bynum said.

One of the things that the state of Hawai‘i is famous for nationwide is not allowing billboard advertising, according to Bynum.

“But we allow alcohol billboard advertising all over,” he said.

Councilman Mel Rapozo also had concerns with the county promoting events that are sponsored by alcohol companies.

Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i criticized the council for approving $220,000 in subsidies for the Kaua‘i Marathon, an event co-sponsored by a California-based winery.

Koki said her office had convinced Baptiste not to sign permits for any banner promoting alcohol. But applicants would show a picture of a proposed banner,  and after getting the mayor’s approval they would “go and put the alcohol in it,” she said.

Koki said Rapozo has “stepped up” and is in conversations with Jose regarding the county’s sign ordinance.

Jose said the sign ordinance is “definitely” something that needs to be worked on, but the county cannot do it all by itself. The promising thing is that when she goes out in the community, people want to do it, she said.

There are organizations out in the community, Jose said, that “definitely” want to change that social norm.

“Kujo’s is a classic example,” she said. “We talked to the owners, ‘Is this really going to make a dent in our income?”’

Jose said Kujo’s owner  was willing to work together with the county. She added that after the Kujo’s face lift is done, she would work on a template with a baseline cost that would make it easier to replicate the idea at other establishments on the island.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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